by Susan C. Griffith
Thank you, Ann, and thanks to the Jane Addams Peace Association and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom for sponsoring these awards that, for the 55th year, honor Jane Addams – her principles, her philosophy, and her activism. As Chair of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee, I would like to acknowledge Erika Schlenkermann for her music, the special efforts of the JAPA Board in providing books for purchase and signing, and all the members of the award committee. Here today are Eliza Dresang, a member of the committee since the year 2000, and a new member of the Committee, Sonja Cherry-Paul, who will join our work in 2008. Other members, spread across the country, are listed on your program and are here in spirit.
I welcome all of you gathered in this room. You come from California, Florida, Texas, New York, Michigan, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to honor the legacy of Jane Addams, the power of stories, and the future of all children. What brings us to this moment? The journey for all of us begins long before we took a step outside our doors today. It began with imagination—maybe ten years ago, maybe just two or three, an idea or image surfaced in the minds of the authors and illustrators we see before us. They paid attention, made a commitment, nurtured the ideas and brought them to friends, colleagues, publishers and editors who listened, supported, reflected and gave time and resources to bring those ideas forward to create the books we honor today.
And where will this moment take us? For us, the readers of your stories, it will take us back to our own homes and communities. There, we act as part of a social justice network committed to the power of imagination and stories in shaping a world grounded in peace, social justice and world community. In doing so, we take inspiration from Jane Addams herself who, in 1902, wrote:
We have learned as common knowledge that much of the insensibility and hardness of the world is due to the lack of imagination which prevents a realization of the experiences of other people (Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 8).
We use our own imaginations to create the events, exhibits, conversations, reviews, activities and celebrations that draw attention to these stories and place them in the hands of children who have imaginations of their own. Our network grows stronger with each passing year.
Here are highlights of this year’s efforts:
- For the first time ever, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winners and honor books were announced from the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois-Chicago in April. In cooperation with Lisa Lee, Director of the Museum, this now annual press conference was held in the Residents’ Dining Room—the wood-paneled, high-ceilinged room where Addams herself ate, discussed, plotted and planned to change the world with the cadre of woman who lived and worked alongside her.
- Accompanied by Jane Addams, the Time Traveler, (who is here with us today), Addams Committee member Jo Montie worked with children in Minnesota schools. She used the books, the Addams doll and an empathy game to encourage children to make connections with Addams and to ask themselves: How might I make choices to make a difference while I’m here?
- As a direct result of attending last year’s ceremony, Michelle Yang and Sonja Cherry-Paul of the Hastings-on-the-Hudson School District founded the Jane Addams Literature Circle for Girls. They organized and now lead a group of girls who meet once a month to discuss an Addams Award winner or honor book. The girls, many of whom are here with us today, tell what the group means to them in a handout in your folder
- Pat Wiser, our indefatigable member from Sewanee, Tennessee, continued her work in Appalachia where she carefully and cautiously integrates the Addams books into the curricula of local schools and drives into the mountains to conduct story hours that push school children to realize the experiences of others.
- And, members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom staged an impressive multi-faceted celebration of the 2007 Winners and Honor books at San Francisco Public Library. See the San Francisco Public Library Website to catch the excitement of children enjoying Addams books on their own and in organized activities and to see photographs of the exhibit of 54 years of Addams Award winners that anchored the celebration.
And, now, back to this moment. We want you, the writers and artists whose imaginations have led us here, to know: When you put fingers to the keyboard or a brush or pencil to paper, we are waiting for your work in California, Tennessee, Minnesota, New York and beyond. We are out there, building a network ready to receive the works of your imaginations. We believe, as Beth McGowan, representative of WILPF, said at the 2007 Award Announcement at Hull-House:
In giving this Award, the Jane Addams Peace Association acknowledges that the work of our minds shapes the world in which we live. The association acknowledges that the remaking of the world must begin with the remaking of the stories we tell our children.
Winner of Books for Older Children
Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, is the winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award in the Books for Older Children category.
It’s early December 1941. Twelve-year-old Sumiko rushes home to her hardworking family’s flower farm waving a prized invitation to a classmate’s birthday party. In painful foreshadowing of the heartbreak and injustice all Japanese Americans will soon face, Sumiko is turned away from the party.
Thrown off balance early in life by the death of her parents, Sumiko and her little brother are now firmly rooted in the family of their Uncle, Auntie, grandfather and older cousins. Life revolves around the routines of the flower farm and the family rituals that nurture growth in everyday life. All is lost when the United States declares war on Japan: The government arrests Grandfather and Uncle and ships Auntie, the cousins, Sumiko and her brother to Poston, an internment camp on the Mohave Indian reservation.
At Poston, like thousands of others in the camp, Sumiko faces dust, heat, confinement and boredom. Adrift, she draws on memories of her grandfather’s stories to spur her to purposeful action. She irrigates and cultivates a plot of ground, plants seeds that she has carried from home, and grows weedflowers, the common stock-flower she loves so dearly. Grown-ups are worried about the loss of discipline among the children. But when the adults talk about her, they just joke, “All Sumiko cares about is dirt.”
But Sumiko’s life is more than what the grown-ups observe. In a chance encounter outside the confines of the camp, she meets Frank, a Mohave boy. In secret, Sumiko and Frank form a friendship—one that Sumiko must nurture as carefully as her flowers, one that pushes her to new understandings of herself and of a world that seems not to care about her or her dreams.
In creating a story of the Japanese Internment through Sumiko’s eyes, Cynthia Kadohata blends fact and fiction to create a novel that portrays the cruel loss of the purposeful and productive lives of Japanese-American citizens and the Mohave people. The author’s thorough research and empathetic imagination give life to Sumiko, herself a weedflower whose beauty springs from her hardy and artful survival in an environment designed to destroy it. She proves that in the human spirit, as in nature, nothing and no one is a weed.
The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee is honored to present the Award to the winner in the Books for Older Children category, Cynthia Kadohata. Congratulations.
Remarks by Susan C. Griffith
Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Ceremony
Acceptance Remarks by Cynthia Kadohata, the author of Weedflower…
My father, son of tenant farmers and with a fourth grade education, entered an internment camp as a boy and was drafted out of camp when he became a man. Eventually, he ended up living his life and working 100-hour weeks for my brother, my sister, and me. Jane Addams fought for people like my father.
I think it was easy for him to feel that nobody has ever fought for him or anyone like him, that he fought alone for himself and his family, that fighting alone is simply one’s lot in life. I’ve always felt that my brother, my sister, and I make our parents’ pasts better by fighting to make our futures better, just as, someday, my son will color my past by making a future for himself.
My editor made me rewrite Weedflower seven times. I rewrote the most important draft by hand during seven weeks in Kazakhstan while I adopted my son. My adoption facilitator was stealing money from me and other adopting parents, so though we were paying for a translator, we didn’t get one. So I never knew what was going on. People were regularly screaming at me, and I had no idea why. I felt bored, dislocated, and like I had no idea what would happen next or whether things would work out. It was all driving me crazy, but it helped me understand my main character Sumiko, who would have experienced similar feelings. After that the writing came more easily, because I felt I could relate to my main character now.
I always say that my father and my son are connected through the cycle of writing of Weedflower. Here’s the cycle: A little boy becomes a man who spends almost forty years in the same Southern town doing the same hard job until he becomes an old man whose daughter adopts a boy from a country halfway around the world, which helps her to understand dislocation and severe boredom and to write a book about the place where her father became a man.
It’s such an honor to receive an award named after one of the great women of American history. I am equally humbled and inspired by her life and the way she showed that not just one man but one woman can make a difference, one woman can change the world.
One is tempted to play the game of wondering what Jane Addams would have done during various times in history. For instance, had she lived during the internment of Japanese Americans, I have no doubt that hers would have been a lonely voice of protest. Had she lived today, well, her protests and activities might have made her the busiest woman alive. What I love about Jane Addams was that she didn’t just think, she didn’t just believe, she acted. She wrote books, she established organizations, she spoke out.
Being the obsessive compulsive writer that I am, I couldn’t help going to Amazon.com and noting that Jane Addams’ books are still in print. Through her books, through this organization, and through her example, she is changing the world even today.
— Posted with permission of Cynthia Kadohata
Winner of Books for Younger Children
A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, written by Amy Lee-Tai, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino and published by Children’s Book Press, is the winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for Younger Children. Set in a U.S. internment camp and told in both Japanese and English, this is the story of preschooler Mari and her family. Subdued by her losses and frightened by living under guard in the harsh desert, Mari barely talks or laughs anymore.
Mari’s parents look to creative expression to urge her fears into the open and to rekindle her spirit. Her mother plants sunflower seeds with her; her father brings her to art classes held in the barracks. At first, Mari is unable to draw and the sunflower seeds refuse to sprout. But then, lavished with the time, patience and care of her parents and teacher, Mari does begin to draw, and, in words from the text: “It was if, with every drawing she created, Mari found another question to ask and the courage to ask it.” “Why are we in camp? Why is almost everyone here Japanese American? Will I ever see my old friends again?”
Finally, after three long months, on the day she draws the crowded family barracks with imagined sunflowers so tall they rival the guard towers above them, the sunflowers sprout.
A Place Where Sunflowers Grow blends understatement with telling details in language carefully chosen to appeal to young children. Mixed-media illustrations in the browns, yellows, golds and greens of both sunflowers and the desert foreground the tenderness of conversations between Mari and her parents against the grim background of the armed guards and barbed wire that enclose them. Writer Amy Lee-Tai and illustrator Felicia Hoshino drew inspiration from the stories and art of Amy Lee-Tai’s grandmother Ibuki Hibi Lee to create a book that demonstrates that, with time, patience, care and the arts, human dignity and human compassion can be nurtured in even the most unjust circumstances.
It is with great pleasure that we present the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award in the Younger Children’s category to author Amy Lee-Tai.
It is with great pleasure that we present the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award to illustrator Felicia Hoshino.
Remarks by Susan C. Griffith
Acceptance Remarks by Amy Lee-Tai, the author of A Place Where Sunflowers Grow…
Good afternoon, everyone! I just love being back in New York City. I was born here and spent the first 13 years of my childhood here, as well as 7 years of my adulthood. This city — and many individuals who live here — are near and dear to my heart, making this ceremony all the more special to me.
Susan Griffith was kind enough to call me at home this past spring to deliver the wonderful news. I have to tell you, when the house phone rang, I thought that the person on the other end was likely a telemarketer. See, it was 8 pm, and given that my husband Robert and I have two small children, the phone doesn’t typically ring at that hour. Robert was out of town and usually calls from his cell phone. Okay, I’m going to be a little dramatic here: it was day 4 without him; our eighteen-month-old was happily starting her day at 4 am; I had just gotten the kids off to bed; and I was feeling pretty bleary-eyed. But on the off-chance that it was Robert, I picked up the phone. When I heard a woman’s voice on the other end, I thought, “Uh, a telemarketer. How do I get out of this one?” Susan started to introduce herself, but we had a poor connection. So I said, in probably not the most patient tone, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you very well!” Susan did something to adjust the volume, introduced herself and went on to tell me the fabulous news. The moral of the story is: When you pick up the phone, always be polite, because you never know – someone may give you an award! It was a phone call that I will surely never forget, from beginning to end.
And to be here today at the United Nations – this is another unforgettable moment. To me, this moment symbolizes three generations of my family coming full circle.
My grandmother Hisako Hibi, my grandfather Matsusaburo Hibi, my uncle Satoshi Hibi, and my mother Ibuki Hibi Lee were four of the 120,000 Americans of Japanese decent who were forced to live in internment camps during WWII. After the war, my grandparents decided not to return to northern CA, but rather to relocate to NYC where — as artists — they looked forward to exploring the art world and where they also hoped to find a more open attitude toward Japanese Americans. There was a lot about this city that impressed my grandmother. For one, she so admired the newly formed United Nations and its quest for world peace. In 1947, two years after she arrived in NYC, she completed a beautiful painting entitled, “The United Nations and Its Struggle for Peace as I See It.”
When Children’s Book Press offered me this project in fall of 2004, I of course jumped at it. What better way than to help expose children to the Japanese American internment as well as to my grandmother’s artwork — two subjects that I had long felt connected to and passionate about. Since my teaching days in Boston and NYC, I had pondered the idea of writing a children’s book about my grandmother’s life story using her artwork as the illustrations.
Though A Place Where Sunflowers Grow ended up being a work of historical fiction, my grandmother’s artwork and life story were sources of deep inspiration for me.
In her memoirs, my grandmother Hisako Hibi writes:
“I thought the terrible war ended on August 15, 1945. Quite the contrary, fiercer fighting and war, and evacuations of people, seem to continue in a human tragedy
today in other parts of the world. I see and hear helpless mothers and their crying children.”
My grandmother continues, “Through our own bitter experiences of World War II, I hope to contribute something positive toward a better future and a peaceful existence for all people on Earth.”
Like my grandmother and my mother, I share this hope. So it is a thrill and an honor to receive an award from the Jane Addams Peace Association. In recognizing my work, you recognize the tragic history of the Japanese American internment. And you also recognize the hope that, as a nation and a world, we will learn to avoid similar travesties. My grandmother would have been so pleased to know that her life’s work inspired a children’s book, which would bring me here to the UN, a place that represented to her what is fair and just in this world.
This award is, as they say, the icing on the cake. I’ve been able to work on a project that has been incredibly meaningful and satisfying to me on so many levels – emotionally, creatively, intellectually, professionally, and politically. I’ve been able to work with talented individuals from whom I learned volumes about writing, editing, publishing, and promotion. I would say that it has been a labor of love, except that I hardly see it as labor. It has been a joy.
I cannot close without thanking several individuals who were instrumental in bringing A Place Where Sunflowers Grow to life. It was truly a team effort and would have not been possible without you:
My husband Robert Tai for your belief in this project and for the countless ways that you have supported my work and me
My grandmother Hisako Hibi for your inspiring and guiding spirit
My mother Ibuki Hibi Lee for passing this project onto me and for trusting me to do the job well
Ina Cumpiano, formerly of Children’s Book Press, for taking a chance on me as a first-time author
Dana Goldberg, Executive Editor of Children’s Book Press, for your warmth and wisdom during the writing and editing process.
Felicia Hoshino for creating illustrations that move me each and every time I look at them.
My youngest brother Marc Akio Lee for carefully translating the text from English into Japanese — and for handing out a copy to just about anyone you meet while living in Japan.
Lori Low, formerly of Children’s Book Press, for promoting the book in its first year from your heart.
The entire staff of Children’s Book Press for your commitment to the book — and for being so much fun to work with.
Finally, thank you to the Jane Addams Peace Association for this award. I shall cherish it.
— Posted with permission of Amy Lee-Tai
Honors for Books for Younger Children
Night Boat to Freedom, written by Margot Theis Raven with pictures by E. B. Lewis, published by Melanie Kroupa Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux is a compelling work of historical fiction rich with the tones of oral storytelling. Christmas John, an enslaved African-American boy, repeatedly faces danger and darkness to row other slaves across the Ohio River to freedom. With Granny Judith’s story of her own cruel capture fueling his actions, Christmas John faces his fear with her words to guide him: “What scares the head is best done with the heart.”
Expressive watercolors in blues and grays create passionate conversations held in shadowy firelight and intense moonless nights filled with silence and risk. Red, subdued when it represents the sorrow and blood of slavery, becomes a bright motif of triumph when it stands alongside all the colors Granny Judith sews into a freedom quilt. Drawing key elements from African-American slave narratives, Night Boat to Freedom offers an inspiring story that is exactly as Ms. Raven describes it in her Author’s Note: “patches of truth stitched together by voices alive with history.”
For Night Boat to Freedom, a story that shows the resilience and courage of a child faced with injustice, I am pleased to present this 2007 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award honor citation for a Book for Younger Children to Melanie Kroupa on behalf of author Margot Theis Raven.
In recognition of evocative, moving illustrations, I am pleased to present a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor Citation in the Books for Younger Children Category to E. B. Lewis. Melanie Kroupa will accept the citation.
Remarks by Susan C. Griffith
Crossing Bok Chitto: told in written form by nationally recognized Choctaw storyteller, Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges, an award-winning artist, published by Cinco Puntos press.
We are bound for the Promise Land!
This refrain resounds throughout the 2007 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor Book, Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom, told in written form by nationally recognized Choctaw storyteller, Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges, an award-winning artist, and published by Cinco Puntos press.
This traditional Choctaw story starts when Martha Tom, a young Indian girl, crosses the River Bok Chitto the boundary between free and slave territory in search of blackberries for her mother’s wedding preparations and witnesses the singing of this refrain in a forbidden slave gathering, deep in the Mississippi woods. The refrain rings in Martha’s mind as she steals back across the river many times, using stones hidden beneath the water but seeming to walk on the surface. Over time she becomes a close friend of Little Mo, a black boy her age, whose father leads these welcoming but forbidden worship services.
But the night that Little Mo learns his mother has been sold and enlists Martha and the other Indian women’s help miraculously to lead his seven-member family to safety and freedom on the Choctaw side of Bok Chitto, the very immediate and concrete meaning of the Promised Land becomes clear. Martha’s singing of the refrain in Choctaw as the family crosses Bok Chitto symbolizes the friendship of the two peoples and how they worked together courageously and non-violently to break a cycle of fear and subjugation.
The lyrical language of the storytelling, the solemn dignity of each individual portrayed in the perfectly-matched compelling acrylic paintings, and the final historical notes and explanation of the tale’s origins in Choctaw culture come together in a uniquely outstanding picture book.
The Jane Addams Committee is pleased to honor this story of friendship and freedom that can be found nowhere else in the annals of children’s literature and yet records an extremely important partnership between the native peoples and enslaved Africans in their struggle for freedom. Congratulations and thank you to Tim Tingle, Jeanne Rorex Bridges, and Cinco Puntos for bringing to the children of the world this example of a little known but highly significant part of American history authentically told from the oral tradition.
Remarks by Eliza T. Dresang
Honors for Books for Older Children
Russell Freedman, author of the 2007 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor book,Freedom Walkers, published by Holiday House, is a well-known name in the arena of children’s literature; his work has received virtually every major award given to writing for young people. And yet he continues, as he does in Freedom Walkers, to tackle important historical and social topics in compelling ways so that they capture the attention of youth and surely inspire them, as did Jane Addams herself, to make the world a place more amenable to peace and social justice.
In Freedom Walkers, Freeman takes a novel approach to the story of the 1954 Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott that is often thought of as the event of that spearheaded the Civil Rights movement. The quiet determination of many individuals who fought their own battles against segregation, paving the way for Rosa Parks’s determination not to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus is clearly portrayed. Whole chapters are devoted to such individuals, e.g., Jo Ann Robinson, a recently hired professor of English, who, in 1949, was humiliated because she happened to sit in what was determined the white portion of the bus or teenager Claudette Colvin. Freeman expertly depicts the dignity and intelligence with which Rosa Parks carried out her role as the catalyst for the strike, and the subsequent coming together of the many, many Freedom Walkers for the 382 days during which they walked to work – often at great sacrifice – and brought the attention of the world to Montgomery. In fact, they brought about the end of segregated transportation forever. Russell Freeman makes these walkers vividly real with the use of both known and unknown personal details and forceful descriptions.
The black and white photographs speak as articulately as the words of the emotions of this event that taught people everywhere how disputes could be settled peacefully when determination to do so is present and how injustice can be confronted in nonviolent yet highly effective ways. The Jane Addams Committee congratulations you, Mr. Freedman, for this engrossing account of the Montgomery Freedom Walkers and for the clarity with which you portray this example of how to approach problems of great magnitude with courage and determination to solve them in a peaceable manner.
Remarks by Eliza T. Dresang
Counting on Grace, by Elizabeth Winthrop, is published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. In a fit of pique, schoolteacher Miss Lesley dismisses second-best reader Grace Forcier from her mill-owned classroom. Her best reader, Arthur Trottier, has just been conscripted to work in the mills in his dead father’s stead. This novel is set in Vermont in the early 1900s, and is told through the voice of twelve-year-old French Canadian Grace Forcier.
No longer a schoolgirl, Grace is eager to join her family in the mills. She knows that, as a doffer changing bobbins on her mother’s six looms, she will be counted on for the money she brings to her struggling family. But exuberant Grace is not quick like her older sister Delia who, the morning of Grace’s first day, issues her a stern, heartfelt warning: “Grace, every second. Pay attention.” Grace’s mind wanders, her body resists, and her spirits sag as the relentless pressure of factory life bears down upon her.
In a story inspired by a photo taken by Lewis Hine, a reformer with a camera, Elizabeth Winthrop gives us Grace—a girl who negotiates the dangerous looms, empathizes with the striving of her friend Arthur, and lovingly cares about and for her family members. Grace is a courageous individual but she is not alone. When the letter she secretly writes with Miss Lesley and Arthur brings Lewis Hine to town, his careful activism and respectful approach ground her more firmly in her community while stretching her sense of self beyond its boundaries.
This historical novel emphasizes the importance of literacy, imagination, community and activism in challenging social injustice. I am pleased to present a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award honor citation in the category of Books for Older Children to Elizabeth Winthrop.
Remarks by Susan C. Griffith